Jam and Roses: The Lives and Loves of 1920s Factory Girls by Mary Gibson

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Jam and Roses: The Lives and Loves of 1920s Factory Girls by Mary Gibson

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: A struggling family in 1920s Bermondsey seem to be pulling apart, despite their best efforts to stick together. When a foolish decision threatens to destroy the family completely, they must work harder than ever to maintain a united bond.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 438 Date: January 2015
Publisher: Head of Zeus
ISBN: 978-1781855928

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The year is 1923 and 'jam-girl' Millie Colman is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a letter inviting her family to go 'hopping' in Kent. The annual trip provides desperately needed respite from the oppressive atmosphere at home, as well as a much-needed dose of fresh air and open space. For Millie, the invitation symbolises escape; albeit for only a few precious weeks of the year. Life in the Colman household is uncomfortable, to say the least. Millie and her two sisters bicker constantly and the whole family live under the shadow of a drunken father who is prone to violent rages. Unfortunately for Millie, this year's hopping trip is anything but an escape, when she makes a foolish decision which will have dire repercussions for the whole family.

Like Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts, Jam and Roses is set in Bermondsey, also known as 'London's Larder'. This busy industrial area, with its many factories, provides a fascinating backdrop for Mary Gibson's family sagas, which are full of drama, joy and heartbreak in equal measure. I did find the full title: Jam and Roses: The lives and loves of 1920s factory girls a bit misleading, as the story mainly focused on Millie and her family and there is hardly any mention of the other girls who work in the jam factory.

One of the strong themes in the story is family unity. At the beginning of the story, the Colman family is a broken unit; the father rules with an iron fist and the mother struggles to hold everything together on a daily basis. The Colmans have lost two sons to war and another son has left home, leaving the three squabbling daughters, who mother jokingly refers to as her 'set of jugs'. Millie, the oldest, is selfish, headstrong and prone to drinking too much. The middle daughter, Elsie, is a strange soul, with a preternatural air about her, although she too is prone to violent outbursts when her reverie is disturbed. The youngest, Amy, is a free spirit, who runs wild on the streets with the boys and frequently defies her father. In modern terms, they would most likely be referred to as 'neighbours from hell', which makes Millie quite a daring and unusual choice for a protagonist.

Gibson's thorough research is clearly evident in the depictions of the places in the book. I particularly enjoyed the descriptive narrative about the hopping holiday in Kent, with hundreds of Bermondsey families loading up their 'hopping trolleys' and boarding the steam train. The sense of camaraderie between these desperately poor people is written in a warm and sympathetic way.

Although the book is set a decade later than the previous novel, several themes tie the stories together (eagle eyed readers may even spot a cameo appearance from one of the characters!). There is still great political unrest, as wages are too low for people to live on. Strikes are common and unemployment is high. The book explores the repercussions of the strike action and how this affects ordinary people and families.

On a personal level, I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as 'Custard Tarts', as it was a lot darker in tone and I found it hard to warm to the heroine. At 438 pages long, I felt that a shorter format would have been more appropriate, as there are often long periods in the story where not much happens. The book also contains strong language, which, though suitable in the context of the story, may offend some readers. Despite this, I cannot fault the fact that the book itself is well-written and historically accurate, with some memorable characters and intriguing plot turns. I thank the publishers for my review copy.

Bookbag loved Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson, a perfect cosy fireside read that you won't be able to put down.

Buy Jam and Roses: The Lives and Loves of 1920s Factory Girls by Mary Gibson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jam and Roses: The Lives and Loves of 1920s Factory Girls by Mary Gibson at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Jam and Roses: The Lives and Loves of 1920s Factory Girls by Mary Gibson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Jam and Roses: The Lives and Loves of 1920s Factory Girls by Mary Gibson at Amazon.com.


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